Jun 18, 2012

Monday Music Duel #1

I don't know much about music. I often find it strange and confusing, like an instruction manual or burlesque. I feel like I've missed out on some mystical musical education, mainly because I spent my high school years holed up in my bedroom listening to radio comedy, or holed up in my living room watching TV comedy, all while my father yelled at me to a) clean my room, b) get outside c) get a job or d) join the merchant navy.

(I love my Dad, I really do. Just today, he snarked about my teenage cousins "always going on about Facebook, always ner-ner-ner on their phones, jeez, can't you just enjoy life for once?". He's almost at the point where I could base a comedy routine about him and his good old-fashioned shouty ways, bless him.)

Anyway, I wanted to conduct a little bit of music education/criticism - if only for myself - every week. And if there's one thing I've noticed about pop/rock music in general is that there seems to be a limited barrel of song names/themes one can choose from. So what better way to celebrate style, composition and originality by pitching two similarly-named songs against each other in a simplistic battle for musical supremacy?

And so I present to you: The Monday Music Duel.

I'm not starting small, either. First up, let's fight two hugely significant and popular songs of the late 20th century, by two of its arguably most important bands.

One by Metallica

One by U2

Tough, huh? Very tough, I'd imagine. Unless of course you're a metalhead, in which case I imagine Metallica shoots through without argument. One by Metallica is based on the 1939 novel Johnny Got His Gun, about a solider trapped in his own body after losing his limbs in war. This song, from 1989's ...And Justice for All (and boy, did I see that phrase Nikkoed on a lot of pencil cases at school), is an exercise in building tension, as soft and slow notes forming its famous opening riff give way to a throaty chorus ("Hold my breath as I wish for death"), eventually slamming into a thumping drum solo and the machine gun guitar riff.  The film clip has scenes from the movie of the book to emphasise the horror of the soldier's situation.

I've never seen Metallica live, but I understand this is a crowd favourite at any gig. I can believe that; it's perfect fodder for throwing that mop of metalhead long hair around and sloshing a few beers over your buddy before throwing up the horns. I find the final minute or so disorientating, but I realise that's intentional, and the song needs the length to make its point.

Contrast that with U2's offering from 1991's Achtung Baby. One is the kind of rock ballad that even I find it hard to be cynical about. It's so low-key, but so musically complex. It never builds to the fire that Metallica does, but it achieves a white-hot burn by the time Bono's lamenting "Love is a temple, love a higher law/ You ask me to enter, but then you make me crawl". The song's key message is "We're one - but we're not the same"; that yes, we're all in this together, but we're not some hippy bullshit unified creature of light and joy and whatever, and we've just all got to get along.

Apparently, the band's super-producer Brian Eno didn't like the song to begin with. Which is fine until you realise that ENO is ONE SPELLED BACKWARDS. Spooky. He must've come round eventually, as One is regularly voted highly in lists of "Best Songs of All Time" and "Best Lyrics of All Time". Say what you like about U2, but One is just that good.

I have had the pleasure of seeing U2 live, when they toured Brisbane in late 2010. It's my favourite U2 song after Beautiful Day, and they opened with that, so from that point on it was a bunch of songs then One. And I certainly wasn't disappointed.

VERDICT: U2, by a nose.

Do you agree or vehemently hate me now in that way only the internet can? Would love to hear your comments for or against below. Next Monday I'll announce the popular vote.

Thanks again to Dan Beeston for coming through with another logo for me!


  1. Metallica. That is all.

  2. I am definitely a biased source, but still, I've got to go with Metallica's One. From a technical perspective the song is miles ahead of the U2 number; Justice was the final album of Metallica's early period, and it was easily the most technical of their albums, featuring intricate guitar parts and long, looping songs. After this, they'd team up with producer Bob Rock, who'd encourage them to shorten and simplify their songs, producing what would eventually become The Black Album (also known to non-fans as "The One With Enter Sandman On It") As such, Metallica's One represents the final creative flourish of the band before they entered the next chapter of their career, and is a perfect example of the band on the absolute top of their game. The only song of theirs I'd put ahead of this in sheer greatness would be Master of Puppets, which is a perfect, intricate clockwork wonder, while still being heavy as hell.

    And yes, having seen them live more than once, I can confirm that One live is absolutely bloody amazing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVsqslSBWTs

    I certainly appreciate U2's song, but while I know it's a personal favourite of yours Nat, I wouldn't even put it in my top 5 U2 songs.

  3. Also, I love this concept and will be looking for more examples.

  4. Metalica's effort wins for me, as I always prefer music that makes me want to move. U2's effort makes me want to tell Bono to shove over at that bar and order me one.

  5. I'm another one (heh) who finds U2 dull and uninspired. It's just my musical taste though.

    I'd love to see Britney Spear's Toxic vs Alice Cooper's Poison.

  6. Maybe look at covers of songs that are (arguably) better than the original

  7. I was once forced to watch Johnny Got His Gun by my father. U2 all the way.

  8. U2 are a band that became famous at the right time. If they were starting out now, they wouldn't get a second thought. Their music is bland and their themes are boring. They're catchy, but so is "call me maybe" by Carlie Rae Jepson". Metallica chose a path with "one" that struck a chord with many (excuse the pun) the world over and that song alone is responsible for a fair chunk of their fan base (myself included). It's crushing riffs still send shivers down my neck and will always be in my top 5 favorite songs of all time.

  9. My vote goes to 'One' by Shower Scene From Psycho...I know it's a cover but cannot remember the original.
    Otherwise, +1 to Blair's comment.

  10. I'm siding with Metallica. Slower songs just put me to sleep, or maybe it's just slower songs by U2.

  11. Metallica for me of course.
    But perhaps I'm biased because I'm in the metal scene.

  12. The parody of U2's "One" by Amateur Transplants is the better song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqNiY86BRYA

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